California Occupational Guides

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Summary Guide for

Chefs and Head Cooks in

May also be called: Executive Chefs; Pastry Chefs, and Sous Chefs

Specialties within this occupation include: Research Chefs and Supermarket Chefs

What Would I Do?

Chefs and Head Cooks direct the preparation, seasoning, and cooking of salads, soups, fish, meats, vegetables, desserts, and other foods. They create recipes, plan and price menus, order supplies, keep records, and cook the more complex menu items in restaurants and other establishments.

Chefs and Head Cooks stand most of their work day in a warm kitchen environment, lifting heavy pots and working with knives and other sharp instruments. This can be strenuous work. They must deal with the pressure of working in close quarters with several people and promptly producing meals that meet quality expectations.

Chefs and Head Cooks who work in large hotels or resorts often belong to the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union or the Service Employees International Union.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Chef will appeal to you if you value creativity, enjoy making decisions, and like to lead others in activities involving hands-on skills and projects. Cooks and Chefs need an excellent sense of taste and smell, good health, and enough energy to endure standing for hours at a time.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

The median wage in 2021 for Chefs and Head Cooks in California is $60,361 annually, or $29.02 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2021Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2021 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
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Chefs and Head Cooks who work full time in large restaurants, resorts, or government agencies enjoy benefits such as medical, dental, life insurance, and sick leave. Part-time Chefs and Head Cooks generally do not. Some employers provide employees with uniforms and free meals; but, federal law permits employers to deduct these from their employees’ wages.

What is the Job Outlook?

Much of the increase in the employment of Chefs and Head Cooks will come from job growth in more casual dining rather than up-scale full-service restaurants.

How Do I Qualify?

Chefs and Head Cooks come to their jobs from many training paths. Some gain long-term job experience cooking in smaller or less-prestigious restaurants, eventually assisting Chefs and learning alongside them. A growing number of Chefs and Head Cooks complete formal culinary programs at institutes or colleges. The number of culinary trained graduates in California has grown over recent years, and there is keen competition for newly trained Chefs at high-end establishments.

Finding a Job

Culinary arts students should follow up with contacts made during program internships and use their school’s placement services. Approaching employers directly remains one of the most effective job search methods.  Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

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